You may remember the case of Federal Judge Richard Cebull, who resigned last year after he was caught sending hundreds of disturbing, often racist, emails from his official email account. The most famous one, the one that was caught first, was this charming one about President Obama:
Normally I don’t send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine. A little boy said to his mother, Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white? His mother replied, “Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!”
How funny that he usually doesn’t forward emails like that, but this one — accusing Obama’s mother of having sex with a dog — was just too good for him to resist. To his credit, he filed a complaint against himself with the Judicial Council of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after this incident came to light, but the ensuing investigation found that he had sent similarly bigoted messages hundreds of times. He resigned from office rather than face the consequences that the judicial council would have handed down, which prompted the council to try to bury the facts of the case so as not to embarrass him. David Kurtz explains what happened next:
At this point, I should introduce the hero of this story. Cebull wasn’t the only one to file a misconduct complaint over his racist email. Several others did, too, including, remarkably, Theodore McKee, the chief judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, all the way across the country in Philadelphia.
McKee, left, would not let the case go. He was displeased with, among other things, the 9th Circuit Judicial Council’s decision not to publish its order and its findings of misconduct. He asked for a review of that decision.
The council issued a second, watered-down order. McKee was still not happy with the result, expressing “concern about the propriety of a Judicial Council issuing a final order making detailed findings of extensive judicial misconduct and then, after the subject judge retires, sua sponte vacating its own final order and issuing a new order that effectively conceals the judicial misconduct that previously had been identified and detailed.”
McKee elevated his complaint to the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability, which reviews cases nationally. The committee agreed with McKee and on Friday issued its order. “The imperative of transparency of the complaint process compels publication of orders finding judicial misconduct,” the committee ruled.
Its order included a copy of the original judicial council order, with all the details of the case. You can read it below. Without McKee’s effort, the breadth of Cebull’s misconduct, and many of the details surrounding it, would have remained basically forever unknown.
We owe McKee a big thanks, but this is still standard operating procedure in our legal system. And it isn’t just with judges. The courts also typically do not publish the names of prosecutors that they catch engaging in misconduct. We need a whole lot more transparency at every level.